Vancouver’s Cloudface is a weather pattern. After rolling over the Rocky Mountains from Calgary, gathering steam, he’s circled the coast, flown overseas, toyed with different sounds, and picked his spots. His journey started with punk in Southern Alberta, but life’s currents led him to the Pacific, and shaped the liquid electronic experimentation that is now his calling card.
Take us back and tell us how it all began?
“The first electronic album that I really got into was ‘Dubnobasswithmyheadman’ by Underworld. I bought that CD when I was working near a music store in Calgary. It got me started, but even after that, I wasn’t buying electronic music. I was more into punk. The first album that really blew my mind was probably Boards of Canada’s ‘Music has the Right to Children’. I still use that album as a test signal at my day job with an audio repair shop, so I end up listening to it about 10 times a day.
I’ve been making electronic music since about 1997, messing around with Impulse Tracker (an old PC tracking program). For the band I was in at the time, I would make ambient noise sound collages that played in-between all our songs. That was probably the first electronic music I made. When I was in the band Certain Breeds, I made music under the name Eagleroad, which was psychedelic minimal stuff. It was never really dance music, more like trippy noisy tracks. I went to Berlin and that’s when I started to really like dance music. When I came back I started to focus a lot more on music that was more straightforward.”
How do you approach a live set?
“The first thing I do, when I have a show, is decide what I want to use. For me, that’s the most important part. It determines the general sound of the set and how I’m going to work with transitions, whether I’m using internal sequencers or sequencing everything from one spot. I’ll think about what I want to do and how I want the set to flow and how much gear I want to bring to a show. I like to keep it within a couple of road cases.
For this mix, I used a Roland TR-808, TR-606, TB-303, Elektron Machinedrum, Roland SH101, Yamaha DX-100, Akai S612, Roland Space Echo, and a DC30.
Once I’ve decided what to use, I figure out how to interface it with the other gear. I literally draw it out on paper and make a diagram. It’s not rigid, especially with the SH101 because you can control it in so many different ways. When the gear is all figured out, I decide what kind of vibe the set’s going to have.
[I start with] the gear and the vibe. Once the intro is there, it all goes from there. For this mix it was all new material that was written just for the mix.”
How much does improvisation factor into your live sets?
“The sequences are all pre-programmed. With machines like the 303, you can’t really program it live. You can get a bit looser with things like the SH101. I know the order of how things are going to happen, and I know how it’s going to begin. I usually have about 4 or 5 parts that I want to get to in a set. I figure out the transitions, and then I improvise the body of the song. So, the middle of a song is improvised alongside composed anchor points.
With the 808, I’ll leave it in write mode and just change it live, which can be good some times, and other times it can get a bit repetitive…but I like repetitive drum parts.”
People talk a lot about the swing on the 808
“I think it’s a little bit of voodoo. I think the perceived ‘swing’ on the 808 is caused by the accents, which are a huge part of the 808 sound, and what a lot of people miss out on when they use samples. Without the accents I don’t think the 808 would be the 808…that and the fact that when certain sounds are layered over each other they create a third sound. Like when a closed hi-hat and an open hi-hat are played at the same time they create a half closed hi-hat sound that doesn’t sound like either.
I know its kind of cliché, everyone talks about the 808 and the 303, but for me there are still new zones that are there to be messed with.”
What have you been excited about playing lately?
One of the nice things about having so much stuff in the studio is that you kind of go through phases with certain synths. For the last month or so, I’ve been into the Akai S612.
I’ve had the S612 for a few years, but I keep coming back to it because it’s so easy to use and it just sounds so good. In this mix, I run the DX100 into the input of the S612 and then I sample a sustained note and use that as almost like another layer to the DX100. It gives it more depth.”
Is there a synth or drum machine that is always present in Cloudface?
“I like to have the freedom to use anything, but at the same time I use the SH101 in almost everything. I use the Machinedrum’s live sampling in every set as well.
Usually when I run the SH101 and the Akai S612 through the Machinedrum, I will sample a part of melody line and play that over the original line for variations. You can get some really unpredictable results, which is why I like it.”
Don’t be afraid of the rain. Listen to this mix prepared exclusively for Leisure, and join us when Cloudface touches down with fellow West Coast music mystics, Plays:Four and The Aquarian Foundation, at “No Show”, March 31 at the Unit/Pitt Projects.